If you’re hopping on a plane to Paris sometime soon, you might be wondering what the drinking age in France is. But, there actually isn’t just one drinking age in France, but two! More on that below, but firstly let’s look at the law.
Translation of French law for drinking age in bars and restaurants
If you enter a bar in France, you will see the following sign posted. This is the official law for drinking establishments (bars and restaurants) with regards to serving minors. The top portion of this sign reads:
IT IS FORBIDDEN TO SELL ALCOHOL TO MINORS LESS THAN 18 YEARS-OLD
The person who severs the drink may demand proof of legal age form the client, specifically the presentation of an ID card.
The upper portion of the form goes on to say:
- It is forbidden to give alcohol to minors free of charge in bars and all business and public places.
- It is forbidden to admit minors of less than 16 years-old into bars selling alcohol who are not accompanied by parents or a responsible adult.
The Drinking Age in France
For fermented alcohols like beer, wine, and cider, the drinking age in France is 16 years of age. For hard alcohol like liquor and cocktails, the drinking age is 18 years old.
If you grew up in the United States as I did, seeing a bunch of 16-year-olds at a bar might be a little surprising. But this isn’t that unusual compared to some other European countries.
In England, from 16 years old, you can drink beer, wine, and cider in a restaurant. But this is only if an accompanying adult purchases it for you.
In Greece, there is no minimum legal drinking age, but the legal age to buy alcohol or drink in public places is 18.
So now that you know if you can enjoy a glass of white wine with your moules frites, let’s dive a little deeper into the drinking culture in France. From French drinking customs to habits to unwritten rules, you’ll learn everything you need to know about drinking in France.
How the French Drink vs. Americans
It’s no secret Americans have a little bit of a tumultuous history with drinking. From prohibition to binge drinking culture to alcohol poisoning, our relationship with alcohol isn’t perfect.
But this isn’t the only way the drinking culture in France is different from that of the United States.
Depending on where you grew up in the United States, you might have come in contact with binge drinking. Binge drinking is excessive drinking with the intention of becoming highly intoxicated.
In France, binge drinking is pretty uncommon. Since most French children see the responsible consumption of alcohol at a young age, there is less secrecy and curiosity around alcohol.
Since it’s not as taboo or forbidden, French teenagers aren’t as tempted to go overboard. Yes, French teenagers still drink too much from time to time, but not as often.
Since French kids usually learn to drink at home with their families, not out with their friends, they have a different relationship with it.
This means they know how to enjoy themselves rather than just drink to get drunk. That being said, if you do happen to go out with someone who gets a little too drunk, here are some vocabulary words you could use.
How to Say “Drunk” in French
If you’re looking to describe someone as “wasted” in French you could use torché or pété. These are both slang words that mean really drunk.
Drinking Age in France
Another big difference between drinking in France vs. in the United States is the drinking age. As I mentioned earlier, in France, you can start drinking beer, wine, and cider at 16 years old. Then you can drink all alcohol starting at 18 years old.
In the United States, you can drink no form of alcohol before the age of 21.
But hopefully, if you stay in line with French drinking customs, like drinking slowly, you can learn to drink like the French. Drinking slowly is something you will see a lot in France.
In a country known for its wine and cider, it’s no surprise the French like to enjoy every sip. For the French, it’s more about how the wine pairs with the food they are eating than slurping down a cocktail to get a head buzz.
In France, there is also less of a culture of efficiency. Waiters won’t rush you out of your table if you’re taking your time with dessert. Bartenders won’t kick you out if you’ve stopped drinking.
For the French, enjoying a pint of beer en terrace, is more about enjoying the sunshine, a refreshing French (or Belgian!) beer, and being with friends.
Don’t drink to get drunk
A counterpart to drinking slowly is not drinking to get drunk. In the United States, getting drunk is usually the end goal of a lot of moments spent drinking.
But this is not usually the case for the French. This is because they know that they will get drunk eventually if they keep drinking past a glass of wine.
They are likely not throwing down shots to pregame the club. But, rather enjoying a few beers or some wine at a bar or at home. They don’t feel as much pressure to get drunk quickly and would rather drink each drink in its own time.
The importance of food with drink—no matter the drinking age in France
Another interesting thing about the drinking culture in France is that it isn’t all about the drinks. Food plays a huge part in French drinking customs.
From pairing your wine with the right food to enjoying a saucisson at happy hour, where you’ll find drinks in France, food will not be far. You’ll even find bars offering free peanuts or chips with drinks.
And it’s pretty impossible to find a bar that doesn’t serve some sort of food. The most popular things you’ll find on the menu are:
- Une planche de fromage = cheese board
- Les cacahuètes = peanuts
- Une planche de charcuterie = charcuterie board (usually all meat)
- Les huitres = oysters
- Une planche mixte = a mixed cheese and meat board
- Les frites = french fries
One of my favorite parts of French drinking culture is the apéro (short for apéritif). This is a light meal/drinks that you could compare to appetizers or a really fancy pregame.
When I was in college in the United States, it was common to have a pregame or pre-drinks before going out to the bar. The French also do this, but much better.
At a French apéro with friends, you’ll likely find beer, wine, and maybe some hard liquor as the night goes on. But what you will always find is food.
You’ll usually find things like:
- cherry tomatoes
- cheese cubes
If you’re trying to get extra fancy you can cook petits fours, which are basically little pastries like cocktail weenies and mini quiches.
I’ve been to apéros where there is a full spread of food including multiple types of cheese, homemade bread, entire quiches, and more. But French people refer to that as an apéro dînatoire, which is an apéro with so many things to eat that it will replace dinner.
But, at a French apéro at your own home or with your family, you’ll likely only have a few salty snacks to accompany your drink. All you really need to know is that if you’re enjoying alcoholic drinks at home or at another French person’s house, it should always happen with some sort of food.
Drinking Etiquette in France
Now that we’ve talked a little bit about the drinking age in France and drinking customs, it’s time to talk about drinking etiquette. There are a few things to know about drinking alcohol in France, especially wine, so let’s dive in!
How to Drink Wine Like the French
When thinking of French alcoholic drinks, the first thing that will usually come to mind is wine—whether you know the drinking age in France or not. And that’s for good reason!
The French are very proud of their wine and it’s honestly rare to find the French enjoying wine from somewhere else. But no matter if it’s French wine or not, the French do have some specific wine drinking etiquette.
Here are a few things to remember when looking to drink wine like the French:
- Always drink your wine with some sort of food—usually a meal.
- Stop drinking wine once the meal is over and then move on to a digestif (an alcoholic drink enjoyed after a meal).
- Pair red wine with meat/tomato-based dishes and white wine with seafood.
- Talk about wine based on where it’s from. For example, you’ll see a Bordeaux on a drink menu instead of a Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Sauvingon refers to the type of grape instead of the region.
- If you’re not the host of the party wait until they offer you something to drink before serving yourself.
Eye contact when saying cheers
Now that you know how to drink wine like the French, it’s time to learn some overarching French drinking etiquette that applies to all drinking situations—starting with one of the most important.
In the United States, you’ll usually do a group cheers if you’re with a bunch of friends or to each other one-on-one if you’re only with a few people. In France, no matter how many people you’re with, you need to cheers them individually.
And not only that. You need to make eye contact with them when your glasses touch.
This comes from an old tradition based on trust, so the French consider it rude as well as unlucky to not do so.
Some French people say that if you don’t make eye contact with someone when you clink their glass, you’ll get seven years of bad luck!
Wait until everyone drinks before you do
But, there is something to remember before you get to the actual cheers. It’s important to wait to take your first sip until after you’ve already cheersed with everyone.
It took me so long to stop this habit and I still will accidentally drink before cheersing sometimes. But, the French will likely find it rude if you start drinking before everyone else.
How to say cheers in French
And finally, now that you know when to cheers and how to cheers, it’s time to learn how to say cheers in French.
For a quick overview here are a few ways to say cheers:
- À la tienne/À la votre
- Tchin Tchin
If you want to learn more about how to say cheers in French and the differences between these vocabulary words, you can check out my in-depth article on How to Say Cheers in French.
Drinking age in France overview
As you now know, there are a lot of differences in the drinking etiquette in France besides the drinking age. And remember there is no age limit when looking to enjoy the French fun!